The annual NAMM Show in Southern California is America’s largest musical instrument convention. Each year, concerts and private showcases take place in and around the cavernous four-story Anaheim Convention Center, many of which offer chances to see big-name acts perform in unusual settings.
It’s therefore normal by NAMM standards for noted audio equipment manufacturers Peavey Electronics to celebrate their 50th anniversary with a party in a neighbouring Hilton hotel, featuring a performance by Blue Öyster Cult.
As Peavey employees, dealers, buyers and assorted VIPs dine at large banquet tables three deep in front of the stage, a crowd of several hundred ‘normals’ await the commencement of the aural feast.
Wearing his trademark sunglasses and looking like the poster child for classic rock coolness, Buck Dharma begins a four-count that leads into the 1981 anthem Burnin’ For You. Its triple-guitar attack, silky smooth vocal melody and seductive three-part harmonies sound as infectious as ever, while Dharma’s inspired soloing belie his laid-back demeanour. In front of this audience, the timeless recipe that calls for mixing big riffs with big hooks – and less of their weirder canon – still satisfies mightily.
From there, the gargantuan grooves and riffs of Godzilla and Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll attempt to enliven the crowd, but the antiseptic setting makes tonight feel more like a wedding reception than a rock concert. It’s unfortunate, because tonight’s BÖC line-up features what vocalist/guitarist Eric Bloom calls a “special configuration” of the band, featuring alumni Rudy Sarzo (bass) and Bobby Rondinelli (drums).
The band still have an ace up their sleeve, though. Referencing a famous comedy sketch with actors Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken, finale (Don’t Fear) The Reaper is introduced with a call for extra cowbell, which is supplied by drummer Kenny Aronoff. The track’s haunting vocal harmonies, psychedelic guitar work and hypnotic melody make for a satisfying sonic dessert.
In a few years’ time, the band will celebrate their own 50th anniversary. Here’s hoping they’ll do so in a real venue, with a crowd that’s truly hungry for Öyster in all their experimental glory.